Piedmont researcher receives national award

March 21, 2000

Recognized for shedding new light on water

Chemist Richard J. Saykally of Piedmont, Calif., will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for shedding new light on the world's most common yet mysterious substance: water. He will receive the Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics from the American Chemical Society at its 219th national meeting in San Francisco.

Water is where 99 percent of all chemistry takes place, from making pharmaceuticals to conceiving children. Because water is so familiar, it's easy to forget its properties are highly unusual and extreme, said Saykally, a physical chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. "Because of this, it's extraordinarily difficult to describe liquid water theoretically."

Yet modeling this elusive substance on a computer -- recreating water in virtual space to predict exactly its behavior and influences -- is precisely what Saykally aims to do.

"The essential question is, what makes water wet?" he said. "Why does it have such extremely high melting and boiling points compared with similar compounds? Why is it less dense when it becomes solid than when it is liquid? And its solvent properties are unique. That's just the beginning."

At the root of water's remarkable properties is what Saykally calls "strong tetrahedral hydrogen bonding." That means the two hydrogen atoms of one molecule are attracted to the oxygen atom of another. Further complicating the picture, a single water molecule tends to interact not just with its neighbors but with others tens -- even hundreds -- of molecules away.

"So our approach to solving the problem is to build up the liquid one molecule at a time and, at every step, to understand every detail about it," he explained.

Saykally's team started with two molecules and is up to eight. Along the way, the team has developed innovative laser tools and techniques that reveal the nature of water on a quantum as well as a molecular level.

When asked why he chose science as a career, Saykally joked that he "wanted to impress girls." With a touch of pride, he said, "It still works. My five- and seven-year-old girls love to help me in the laboratory."

The Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics is sponsored by General Electric Foundation of Fairfield, Conn.

A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society www.acs.org publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
-end-


American Chemical Society

Related Water Articles from Brightsurf:

Transport of water to mars' upper atmosphere dominates planet's water loss to space
Instead of its scarce atmospheric water being confined in Mars' lower atmosphere, a new study finds evidence that water on Mars is directly transported to the upper atmosphere, where it is converted to atomic hydrogen that escapes to space.

Water striders learn from experience how to jump up safely from water surface
Water striders jump upwards from the water surface without breaking it.

'Pregnancy test for water' delivers fast, easy results on water quality
A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

Something in the water
Between 2015 and 2016, Brazil suffered from an epidemic outbreak of the Zika virus, whose infections occurred throughout the country states.

Researchers create new tools to monitor water quality, measure water insecurity
A wife-husband team will present both high-tech and low-tech solutions for improving water security at this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Seattle on Sunday, Feb.

The shape of water: What water molecules look like on the surface of materials
Water is a familiar substance that is present virtually everywhere.

Water, water everywhere -- and it's weirder than you think
Researchers at The University of Tokyo show that liquid water has 2 distinct molecular arrangements: tetrahedral and non-tetrahedral.

What's in your water?
Mixing drinking water with chlorine, the United States' most common method of disinfecting drinking water, creates previously unidentified toxic byproducts, says Carsten Prasse from Johns Hopkins University and his collaborators from the University of California, Berkeley and Switzerland.

How we transport water in our bodies inspires new water filtration method
A multidisciplinary group of engineers and scientists has discovered a new method for water filtration that could have implications for a variety of technologies, such as desalination plants, breathable and protective fabrics, and carbon capture in gas separations.

Source water key to bacterial water safety in remote Northern Australia
In the wet-dry topics of Australia, drinking water in remote communities is often sourced from groundwater bores.

Read More: Water News and Water Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.